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COVID-19 Morning Report

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Florida Department of Health

State health officials reported 6,236 new COVID-19 cases, Thursday, increasing the statewide total to 557,137 cases. Aug. 13 marked the 18th consecutive day the state has reported fewer than 10,000 new cases of the virus in a day.

The Florida Department of Health also reported 148 new coronavirus-related deaths, Thursday, bringing the statewide death toll to 8,913 fatalities since the beginning of the pandemic.

Of the 4,128,584 tests that have been performed in Florida so far, 13.49% have been positive for the virus. The positivity rate for COVID-19 tests reported Thursday stands at 9.5%, marking the seventh time in the past two weeks, that the daily positivity rate has dropped below 10 %.

On Thursday there were 6,322 people in Florida hospitalized with the virus. The number of patients hospitalized in Florida with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic has now risen to 32,537.

Here in the Southwest Florida region including Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties, state health officials reported 499 new cases of the virus, Thursday, for a total of 48,282 cases.

There were also 13 new coronavirus-related deaths reported in the Southwest Florida region, Aug. 13, including six new deaths in Lee County, five fatalities in Collier, and one new death each in Charlotte and Sarasota Counties for a total of 1,063 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic.

Gov. Ron DeSantis continued to tout the small gains he says Florida is making in combating the COVID-19 pandemic during a roundtable in Tallahassee, Thursday.

The Herald-Tribune reports DeSantis is hailing what he calls "positive trends" in numbers of cases, hospitalizations and infection rates, even as the state department of health's own reporting shows few reasons to celebrate.

Some Florida School Districts have reopened this week and phase two of the governor's business reopening plan went into effect in early June, even though the World Health Organization advises that states should not reopen their economies until their test positivity rates drop to 5% or less for at least two weeks. Florida has not come anywhere close to meeting that threshold.

DeSantis, who has no medical background, also suggested, Thursday, that some of Florida's positive tests may involve people who are not showing symptoms and who are not spreading the virus.

As children throughout Florida return to classrooms amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a Leon County circuit judge fast-tracked lawsuits, Thursday, challenging a state mandate that requires districts reopen brick-and-mortar schools this month.

State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran's emergency order requires schools outside of South Florida to reopen five days a week in August and offer full services to students and families, unless state and local health officials say otherwise.

The Florida Education Association statewide teachers’ union filed a lawsuit challenging the order, alleging that the directive violates the state Constitution. The Orange County teachers’ union filed a similar lawsuit.

During a Zoom hearing Thursday, Florida Education Association lawyer Ron Meyer told Judge Charles Dodson that teachers throughout the state are retiring early and resigning rather than risk exposure to the highly contagious respiratory illness.

“Just rushing to open public schools here in Florida, brick and mortar, is going to create the same kind of mess that we are seeing across the country, where you open them and then you end up closing them because there is COVID transmission being identified,” said Meyer.

Gov. DeSantis, Ed Commissioner Corcoran, and state education officials are asking Dodson to dismiss the lawsuits, arguing that the unions want the judge to supersede the executive branch’s authority.

Attorney David Wells represents the state, and says distance learning is inadequate for many students, especially those with special needs.

“The disadvantaged, because they are English language learners, because they have individual educational plans, because they come from unsafe homes, are visited even more with the problems of virtual education,” said Wells.

Schools in at least a dozen counties reopened this week, and nearly all of the state’s 67 school districts are expected to restart in-person instruction before the end of the month.

Schools in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, which have been COVID-19 hotspots, are exempt from Corcoran’s reopening mandate.

The number of Floridians filing for unemployment benefits remains historically high amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but federal labor figures released, Thursday, show Florida's week-to-week decline in jobless claims was larger than any other state.

The U.S. Labor Department reports 55,106 Floridians filed for unemployment benefits last week, marking a decline of 23,180 claims from the previous week.

Nationally, the Labor Department reports the number of laid-off workers applying for unemployment benefits fell below the one million-mark, last week, for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

The AP reports, layoffs continue to exceed pre-pandemic levels, even as the $600 a week federal unemployment benefit has expired, deepening financial hardships for many households.

Amid worsening COVID-19 conditions in Florida prisons, Governor Ron DeSantis said Thursday that they’re testing all the inmates and separating the sick ones.

And a nonprofit advocacy group is raising new concerns about how the prisoners are getting fed.

More than 14,000 Florida inmates have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Some prisons, like Lowell in Marion County, have it really bad — nearly a thousand inmates infected and 58 staff members.

DeSantis said the vast majority of inmates with the virus are asymptomatic.

“You know,” DeSantis said. “We have had some prisoners who, particularly some of the ones who were very elderly with health conditions, end up hospitalized. We have lost some folks.”

At least 75 inmates have died and two staff members.

Florida Cares has asked for more safety measures and pressed unsuccessfully for the release of vulnerable, low-risk inmates.

In a letter to the governor, the nonprofit said some prisoners are suffering “intense hunger daily.”

Florida Cares Executive Director Denise Rock said they’ve seen a big increase in concerns about food.

“People are saying that either they’re getting breakfast and lunch at three o’clock in the afternoon or they’re getting dinner at 11:30 at night. Those kinds of things,” she said. “And their dinners will consist of a bologna sandwich, a fruit and carrots.”

Rock said that’s because the inmates who normally staff kitchens and deliver food are in quarantine and overworked corrections officers have to fill in.

In a written statement, Florida Department of Corrections officials said they follow guidelines that ensure “proper nutrition and caloric intake.”

As of Tuesday, about 60 complaints had been filed with Collier County Code Enforcement, alleging violations of the county's mandatory mask mandate approved by Collier Commissioners about three weeks ago.

The Naples Daily News reports, the complaints have been about businesses ranging from gyms and restaurants to grocery stores, failing to properly enforce the face covering rule.

The ordinance requires owners and employees of businesses in unincorporated Collier County, as well as customers to wear a face covering.

Fines for violations can go as high as $500 for those who repeatedly violate the rule.

The most frequent offenders on record are the Seed to Table grocery store in North Naples and the Oakes Farms Market east of Naples. Both businesses are owned by Alfie Oakes, who has been a prominent opponent of the mask mandate.

Florida Gulf Coast University is launching its fall semester amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, with classes set to begin Monday, Aug 17.

About 15,000 students are enrolled for the fall semester with a mix of in-person classes and virtual learning. FGCU President Mike Martin tells the News-Press the university expects about 4,000 students to live in campus housing, which is about 83-85% of the school's occupancy.

All students living on campus will have their own rooms and the school has designated a dormitory to serve as a quarantine space for those who test positive.

The university has launched a campaign to educate staff, students and visitors about expected practices on campus intended to slow the spread of the virus, including the use of face coverings, social distancing and hand-washing.

The cost of coronavirus-related preparations for the school comes to at least $2.3 million. University officials hope some of that cost can be recovered through FEMA or federal CARES Act funding.

FGCU has also created two types of COVID-19 testing available to students, faculty and staff on a voluntary basis.

Just days before public schools are set to reopen in Manatee County, several staff from Palmetto High School are quarantining for 14 days after being exposed to COVID-19 on campus.

A positive case of COVID-19 in the school was confirmed, Wednesday. The AP reports, contact tracing finds several other employees had direct exposure to the infected person, but the Bradenton Herald reports its unclear how many people were sent home.

The Manatee County School district is set to reopen brick-and-mortar schools to students on Monday.

United Airlines announced plans, this week, to add nonstop flights to the Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers and to three other Florida locations from cities in the Northeast and the Midwest.

United plans to add nonstop service between Fort Myers and Boston, Cleveland and New York-LaGuardia on November 6 and to Columbus, Ohio, Indianapolis, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh on Dec. 17.

The new flights are scheduled to end Jan. 10. The News-Press reports, United Airlines announcement comes as welcome news for representatives of the region's tourism industry, which struggles to make a comeback amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Florida State University’s Football Head Coach, Mike Norvell, says he’s been transparent about what the team is doing in response to the coronavirus. He made the statement during a press conference after FSU wide receiver DJ Matthews tweeted that he’d tested positive. Matthews deleted the tweet. Later his teammate, Warren Thompson, posted a letter to Twitter claiming the school has been lying about the condition of players.

Norvell says the team has been following appropriate safety measures.

“It’s obviously disappointing to see what was said. We’ve been very open and transparent throughout this process," Norvell said. "We’ve had a voluntary camp; we’ve had voluntary summer access. We’ve been very transparent throughout all aspects including an additional team meeting two nights ago.”

Norvell says all players were tested prior to the start of returning to campus for voluntary training camp. He says they will continue to be tested every week of training camp. The university is not releasing information about whether or not any of those tests yielded positive results.

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